Millennials have shaped many aspects of modern society. In the last ten years, we have seen the decline of the chain restaurant and the rise of the “man bun,” both arguably caused by this generation. No matter how you feel about millennials’ impact on a personal level, you cannot deny the tidal wave of change caused by their generation. The changes aren’t just cultural; millennials have fundamentally changed the way we do business, impacting everything from the way we communicate with colleagues and clients to the way products are distributed.

There are many challenges that face the distribution industry, but also a great deal of opportunity. Interestingly, even though many of the challenges are a result of millennials in the workforce, millennials could be the key to resolving these same challenges.

Here are a few ways millennials are changing distribution:

Workforce Demographics

More than one in three members of the workforce are millennials. By 2020, that portion will grow to more than 50 percent. Even now, Millennials make up the largest single portion of the work force. This group is the future, and they must be included in your business if you expect to survive.

In distribution, there is a fair amount of manual labor involved. But you also need employees with expertise in things like developing online and/or mobile tracking for orders, online lead capturing and more. Millennials know how to do these things and how to do them well. Their integration into the distribution sector is beginning to change the way these businesses operate.  

Consumer Demographics

This shift in customer engagement is important, because millennials are your customer. Almost a third of the workforce with a bachelor’s degree or greater are in management positions, which means millennials are making purchasing decisions. In fact, more than 46 percent of business to business buyers are millennials.

These customers want more than an on-time, quality product. They place a high degree of value on the digital tools offered by their distributor. The better digital experience you offer, the greater your selling point and – ultimately – your value to a millennial customer.

Buying Habits

In 2016, the US Department of Commerce estimated that e-commerce sales revenues totaled $349.9 billion. Online revenues grew by 15.1 percent in 2016 and accounted for 8.1 percent of the total retail sales that year. Millennials have largely shaped this trend.

This generation values convenience and their ability to research over traditional buying habits. They read and believe in product reviews and place high value on their experience as a user when purchasing online. With so much information at their fingertips, they have become the savviest of shoppers. It’s important to invest in external systems, like a quality website or mobile application, to capture the attention of this group and, hopefully, their wallets.   

Research and Development

If you aren’t a millennial yourself, it can be difficult to determine what tools or services would be valuable to a millennial customer. Many distributors are looking to their existing millennial workforce to gain insights about what their generation values. If they believe that a product or service will add value to your product, so, too will a millennial buyer.

Millennials bring a lot to the table when it comes to technology and convenience. As the first generation of people who are considered “digital natives” (those who have grown up online), they know how to harness the power of the digital world and use it to create tools that empower businesses.

Where do I go from here?

Many researchers believe that we are on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution – the Technological Revolution – which will usher in an era of change that will transform the way we live and work. This era will undoubtedly destroy many businesses, but you don’t have to be among the casualties.

Change is hard, and your ability to adapt will make or break your business in the coming years. Choose the path of success. Embrace your millennial staff, learn from them and change accordingly. Invest in your online customer experience with an easy to use online store and state of the art product content. It’s these things that ultimately may determine your destiny.